The iio_simple_dummy Anatomy

Written by Rodrigo Siqueira

In this tutorial, we will conduct an anatomy study under the iio_simple_dummy driver in the IIO subsystem with the goal to get an overview of drivers related to sensors.

For several days I dove into the Industrial I/O (IIO) subsystem as an attempt to finish the set of tasks proposed by Daniel Baluta [3]. I decided to put a lot of effort into Daniel’s assignments, due to my plans to write device drivers for the IIO subsystem in the near future (I hope). As a result, I decided to share/register all the knowledge acquired after long hours studying the iio_dummy module (I believe this will help newcomers like me). Finally, you will find here some general information about the IIO subsystem and details about the iio_dummy module internals.


Usually, I approach a new Device Driver (DD) that I want to learn systematically. First, I like to focus on identifying the initialization functions. Second, I concentrate efforts on discovering the essential elements of the subsystem. Third, I try to seek the read/write functions and dissect them to comprehend their overall behavior. Finally, I manage to put all the concepts together. I do not know if it is a great approach, but I use it in this post.

The best place to start with the IIO subsystem is the iio_dummy module, which is a toy DD. This module has thousands of valuable comments that aid developers to understand the IIO internal. We look at the iio_dummy, starting on iio_simple_dummy; then we go through iio_simple_dummy_event, and iio_simple_dummy_buffer in another post.

The IIO Dummy Channels Setup

Let’s start the iio_dummy dissection by looking at the struct iio_chan_spec since it provides several valuable information that helps to understand the implementation of the other modules. Also, this struct says a lot about the target devices. We have to start off by defining and explaining the channel concept:

Definition: Channel
An IIO device channel is a representation of a data channel; A single IIO device may have one or more channels [1].

To better understand this concept, the IIO documentation provides the following excellent examples [1]:

  • An accelerometer can have up to 3 channels representing acceleration on X, Y, and Z axes;
  • A light sensor with two channels indicating the measurements in the visible and infrared spectrum;
  • A thermometer sensor has one channel representing the temperature measurement.

A channel representation in the IIO subsystem requires a struct named iio_chan_spec, declared at include/linux/iio/iio.h, which has fields to set up channels. The iio_chan_spec is massively configurable; this feature adds flexibility to the subsystem because the same struct is used to configure a different set of devices. It is worth looking at the code documentation located on top of this struct definition.

The iio_dummy create multiple channels to simulate a variety of sensors. As a result, this part of the code is a little bit large although simple. See the snippet of code extracted from drivers/iio/dummy/iio_simple_dummy.c:

static const struct iio_chan_spec iio_dummy_channels[] = {
  /* indexed ADC channel in_voltage0_raw etc */
    .type = IIO_VOLTAGE,
    /* Channel has a numeric index of 0 */
    .indexed = 1,
    .channel = 0,
Code 1: First part of iio_dummy channel configurations

Code 1 is the beginning of the iio_dummy_channels declaration. It is an array of iio_chan_spec, where each element describes a different channel. The field of the first element it is .type. This field specifies the type of measurements collected by the channel; in this case, it is an IIO_VOLTAGE.

In the above piece of code (Code 1), pay attention to the .indexed and .channel field. The .indexed value is a bit field element. The value ‘1’ in this field means that the channel has a numerical index; otherwise, there is no index value. The .channel is the index number assigned to the channel. In summary, this is a way to distinguish multiple data channels in the same channel (remember the example of the light sensor).

    /* What other information is available? */
    .info_mask_separate =
     * in_voltage0_raw
     * Raw (unscaled no bias removal etc) measurement
     * from the device.
     * in_voltage0_offset
     * Offset for userspace to apply prior to scale
     * when converting to standard units (microvolts)
     * in_voltage0_scale
     * Multipler for userspace to apply post offset
     * when converting to standard units (microvolts)
Code 2: .info_mask_separate field

The field .info_mask_separate designates which attributes are specific for this channel. Read the comment on the options to understand the meaning of each one (the comments are very descriptive).

Go back and look again at the above fields, we will see it again in the next section. They play a very important role in the device.

     * sampling_frequency
     * The frequency in Hz at which the channels are sampled
    .info_mask_shared_by_dir = BIT(IIO_CHAN_INFO_SAMP_FREQ),
Code 3: .info_mask_shared_by_dir field

The field info_mask_shared_by_dir is the information mask shared by direction (e.g., in or out); which means that the channel information is shared with other channels that have the same direction.

    /* The ordering of elements in the buffer via an enum */
    .scan_index = DUMMY_INDEX_VOLTAGE_0,
    .scan_type = { /* Description of storage in buffer */
      .sign = 'u', /* unsigned */
      .realbits = 13, /* 13 bits */
      .storagebits = 16, /* 16 bits used for storage */
      .shift = 0, /* zero shift */

Code 4: .scan_index and .scan_type field

The .scan_index and .scan_type are directly related to buffers. If .scan_index receives -1, it means the channels do not support buffered capture; hence the .scan_type is not necessary in this case. However, if .scan_index gets a positive number it means the channel implements a buffer; it is important to highlight that .scan_index must be unique. The .scan_index value is used to organize the order in which the enabled channels are arranged inside the buffer. Going back to Code 4, .scan_index is 0 because of the DUMMY_INDEX_VOLTAGE_0 which is declared in dummy/iio_simple_dummy.h. Finally, the .scan_type represents the buffer data description.

    .event_spec = &iio_dummy_event,
    .num_event_specs = 1,
Code 5: .event_spec

There are two final configurations at the end of the first channel, both related to events. Notice that events became available only if CONFIG_IIO_SIMPLE_DUMMY_EVENTS is enabled in the .config file. In a few words, the .event_spec field register an array of events, and the .num_event_specs is the size of the array. We discuss events in a future tutorial.

Let’s keep looking at the other channels; however, we only focus on new things.

/* Differential ADC channel in_voltage1-voltage2_raw etc*/
		.type = IIO_VOLTAGE,
		.differential = 1,
Code 6: Differential

Code 6 shows an ADC converter, which is configured as a differential.

		 * Indexing for differential channels uses channel
		 * for the positive part, channel2 for the negative.
		.indexed = 1,
		.channel = 1,
		.channel2 = 2,
Code 7: Multiple Channels

The field .channel2 and .differential are directly related to the above Code; The .channel2 keeps the differential value number. Here we have the first example of a single channel, with multiple information.

		 * in_voltage1-voltage2_raw
		 * Raw (unscaled no bias removal etc) measurement
		 * from the device.
		.info_mask_separate = BIT(IIO_CHAN_INFO_RAW),
		 * in_voltage-voltage_scale
		 * Shared version of scale - shared by differential
		 * input channels of type IIO_VOLTAGE.
		.info_mask_shared_by_type = BIT(IIO_CHAN_INFO_SCALE),
Code 8: .info_mask_separate and .info_maks_shared_by_type

Finally, the field .info_mask_shared_by_type represents a shared channel attribute of the same type which means that other channels can access this information. The rest of this channel definition is similar to the last one, let’s skip the rest of the code and look at the next channel.

	 * 'modified' (i.e. axis specified) acceleration channel
	 * in_accel_z_raw
		.type = IIO_ACCEL,
Code 9: .type

Here we have a different type of device represented by the IIO_ACCEL which means acceleration channel.

		.modified = 1,
		/* Channel 2 is use for modifiers */
		.channel2 = IIO_MOD_X,
Code 10: .modified

Here we have another technique to distinguish between data channels in the same channel. If the .modified field is assigned, the .channel2 changes its meaning and expects a unique characteristic for the channel. In the Code 10, this channel receives IIO_MOD_X. The rest of the channel definition is similar to the last one, so let’s go to another different thing.

uouuu… a lot of information. I recommend you stop reading for a while, and go back to the code and read iio_dummy_channels in the iio_dummy module. Then come back here.

The iio_dummy_read_raw() Function

Now it is time to look into some real code. Do you remember the .type field from the last section? So, here this field will play an important role.

static int iio_dummy_read_raw(struct iio_dev *indio_dev,
			      struct iio_chan_spec const *chan,
			      int *val,
			      int *val2,
			      long mask)
	struct iio_dummy_state *st = iio_priv(indio_dev);
	int ret = -EINVAL;

Code 12: iio_dummy_read_raw

The iio_dummy_read_raw function read data from the iio_dummy_state and save it on *val and *val2 parameters. The ‘mask’ argument, provides the required information for finding the correct identification of a channel attribute. Finally, look at the mutex_lock, the read operation is under the lock to keep reading consistent.

	switch (mask) {
	case IIO_CHAN_INFO_RAW: /* magic value - channel value read */
		switch (chan->type) {
			if (chan->output) {
				/* Set integer part to cached value */
				*val = st->dac_val;
				ret = IIO_VAL_INT;
			} else if (chan->differential) {
				if (chan->channel == 1)
					*val = st->differential_adc_val[0];
					*val = st->differential_adc_val[1];
				ret = IIO_VAL_INT;
			} else {
				*val = st->single_ended_adc_val;
				ret = IIO_VAL_INT;
		case IIO_ACCEL:
			*val = st->accel_val;
			ret = IIO_VAL_INT;
Code 13: Find the correct output

Notice that ‘mask’ refers to the field .info_mask_separate, which is used to identify the correct channel to read. Second, inside the switch statement, the type field (from iio_chan_spec) is inspected and based on its value an action occurs. In this section of the code, the *val pointer receives the value provided by the iio_dummy_state struct (which has the sensor state). We will stop the explanation of the read function here because the rest of it is similar to the above code.

The *write_raw Function

The iio_dummy_write_raw() function is similar to iio_dummy_read_raw(); It has the mask parameter which is used to identify the target channel and write/use the information in the iio_dummy_state struct. Different from the read function, the write operation receives the values in the arguments and writes them in the iio_dummy_state struct. Let’s start looking at the essential things about iio_dummy_write_raw():

static int iio_dummy_write_raw(struct iio_dev *indio_dev,
			       struct iio_chan_spec const *chan,
			       int val,
			       int val2,
			       long mask)
	int i;
	int ret = 0;
	struct iio_dummy_state *st = iio_priv(indio_dev);

	switch (mask) {
		switch (chan->type) {
			if (chan->output == 0)
				return -EINVAL;

			/* Locking not required as writing single value */
			st->dac_val = val;
			return 0;
			return -EINVAL;
Code 14: write data

As can be seen in Code 14, the implementation resembles the read function. However, notice that locking is only used when we want to write data in the state struct, i.e., iio_dummy_state is a critical section.

Putting Things Together with Probe Function

Until now, we just looked at distinct parts of each element of the iio_dummy module. Now it is time to understand how things are connected. Typically, IIO drivers register itself as an I2C or SPI driver [1], and requires two functions: probe and remove. The former is responsible for allocating memory, initialize device fields, and register the device. The latter, is not mandatory, basically undo what probe function did. Let’s start looking at the iio_dummy_probe:

static struct iio_sw_device *iio_dummy_probe(const char *name)
Code 15: Signature

This signature is specifically used for software devices, frequently, an interface that works with I2C or SPI have a different signature.

	int ret;
	struct iio_dev *indio_dev;
	struct iio_dummy_state *st;
	struct iio_sw_device *swd;

	swd = kzalloc(sizeof(*swd), GFP_KERNEL);
	if (!swd) {
		ret = -ENOMEM;
		goto error_kzalloc;
	 * Allocate an IIO device.
	 * This structure contains all generic state
	 * information about the device instance.
	 * It also has a region (accessed by iio_priv()
	 * for chip specific state information.
	indio_dev = iio_device_alloc(sizeof(*st));
	if (!indio_dev) {
		ret = -ENOMEM;
		goto error_ret;
Code 16: Allocate

The probe function has three main tasks. The first task allocates memory for an IIO device. In Code 16 we can see the space allocated to store the iio_dummy_state.

	st = iio_priv(indio_dev);

	 * With hardware: Set the parent device.
	 * indio_dev->dev.parent = &spi->dev;
	 * indio_dev->dev.parent = &client->dev;

	 * Make the iio_dev struct available to remove function.
	 * Bus equivalents
	 * i2c_set_clientdata(client, indio_dev);
	 * spi_set_drvdata(spi, indio_dev);
	swd->device = indio_dev;

	 * Set the device name.
	 * This is typically a part number and obtained from the module
	 * id table.
	 * e.g. for i2c and spi:
	 *    indio_dev->name = id->name;
	 *    indio_dev->name = spi_get_device_id(spi)->name;
	indio_dev->name = kstrdup(name, GFP_KERNEL);

	/* Provide description of available channels */
	indio_dev->channels = iio_dummy_channels;
	indio_dev->num_channels = ARRAY_SIZE(iio_dummy_channels);

	 * Provide device type specific interface functions and
	 * constant data.
	indio_dev->info = &iio_dummy_info;

	/* Specify that device provides sysfs type interfaces */
	indio_dev->modes = INDIO_DIRECT_MODE;
Code 17: Data initialization

The second task of probe is taking care of data initialization. Take a careful look at Code 17, and you will notice how it handles basic initializations.

	ret = iio_simple_dummy_events_register(indio_dev);
	if (ret < 0)
		goto error_free_device;

	ret = iio_simple_dummy_configure_buffer(indio_dev);
	if (ret < 0)
		goto error_unregister_events;

	ret = iio_device_register(indio_dev);
	if (ret < 0)
		goto error_unconfigure_buffer;

	iio_swd_group_init_type_name(swd, name, &iio_dummy_type);

	return swd;
Code 18: Register

The final task of the probe function, is the device register.


In this brief anatomy, we studied the main data structures and functions related to the IIO subsystem. I strongly recommend you to take some time to read again the data struct related to the channels and also the read and write functions. For the next tutorial, we want to make hand zone study.


I would like to thanks Matheus Tavares for his review and contributions for this tutorial.


  1. V1: Release
  2. V2: Reviewed-by: Matheus Tavares


  1. IIO Documentation
  2. A nice slide about IIO which helped me to understand the subsystem
  3. IIO tasks proposed by Daniel Baluta

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